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Changed Berger back at Stoke

Changed Berger back at Stoke

Villa midfielder Patrik Berger returns to Stoke tonight a changed man.

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Villa midfielder Patrik Berger returns to Stoke tonight a changed man.
Villa midfielder Patrik Berger returns to Stoke tonight a changed man.

Back in November, the former Liverpool star was banished on loan to the Potteries club after being fined two weeks' wages and banned from the Villa's Bodymoor Heath training complex after refusing to play in a reserve game.

Berger started just once for Stoke, coming on substitute in six other games before returning to Villa at the turn of year.

But after being forgiven by boss Martin O'Neill, he was a revelation in the second half of the campaign.

Setting up a string of goals, winning man of the match awards and scoring twice himself, he formed a major part of Villa's nine-match unbeaten finish.

The former Czech Republic international's sizzling form won him a new one-year contract.

And despite his age - Berger turns 34 in November - O'Neill says the player's renewed enthusiasm for the game means he can still be a major influence as he prepares for his 12th season in the Premiership.

"He's returned in the same vein and retained the same zest in which he finished the season," said O'Neill, who takes his side to the Britannia Stadium for a friendly.

"He's got a fantastic enthusiasm for the game - Patrik has approached the training like a 15-year-old.

"He really has put it in - he's tried to stay with Craig Gardner in the distance runs we've been doing.

"He's strong and his approach to everything has been really first class - it's very interesting to watch him.

"He earned the right to the contract and as he reaches the autumn of his career, every minute is precious to him.

"And that's the way he's approaching it and he's right to do so.

"It's a far cry from him going off to Stoke because you would've got long odds on him winning a contract at that stage.

"But he came back, all was forgiven and figured heavily in a great run at the end and his part in that shouldn't be taken lightly.

"I thought it was very significant - almost from the moment he came on against Watford when he made three chances for Milan Baros.

"From that moment on, he got the confidence up, and got the crowd behind him, so I'm very pleased with him."

O'Neill admits he may have misread the situation because when he arrived last August, Berger had been plagued by a string of injuries and hadn't played since October.

"This time last year he wasn't fit and hadn't been fit for a fairly lengthy time," said O'Neill.

"I see him now and it must have been very frustrating for him."

"Sometimes you can misread a situation - maybe I got the impression that because he was injured, I wondered whether the enthusiasm had waned.

"But since January, he's been a revelation. He's a top notch, quality player, there's no doubt about it.

"He can still score a goal and I genuinely would have loved to have had him at 23, not 33.

"Of course he can still be an important member of the team and I think he's got no other thought in his head of doing anything other than being that."

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